Blogging via CBC

by Community Forests International on December 21, 2010

Executive Director, Jeff Schnurr talks about why he volunteers - check out the link here

My story: In light of my recent nomination as one of CBC's Top 10 Champions of Change, I've been able to reflect on volunteerism and what keeps me involved with Community Forests International. To be honest, I've never really thought of myself as a volunteer, or what I do as charitable -- to me the work I'm engaged in offers me a path for positive change, providing me with a meaningful way to interact with the people and places that surround me.

At 21 years of age, I found myself in Pemba, Tanzania, and like many Canadians my age I was up against the pressures of early adulthood. What did I want to do with my life? What did I hope to achieve? The questions that had been asked of me since high school had carried me across the globe, crossing more than 35 borders before dropping me on the island I would come to know so well. The quest for meaning, for purpose and the void it caused had me searching -- and when several Pembans asked me if I thought we could plant trees as I'd done in Canada, I felt a new sense of place, a new sense of belonging.

That was more than four years ago, and since then I've been working to make good on the promise I'd once made in Pemba. And although we've managed to plant more than 300,000 trees in 14 rural communities, there have been hardships. For the first three years of our tree-planting project, I wasn't able to raise enough funds to pay our Pemban staff members (and now do intermittently). I remember sitting in our director, Mbarouk Mussa Omar's house, in the spring of 2009 and asking Mbarouk if he thought we could keep working without pay, if maybe he thought it was time he looked for some other type of work. I'd put my flight to Tanzania on my Visa card, and was beginning to harbour serious doubts as a fundraiser and Mbarouk's answer couldn't have done more to firm my beliefs. "Jeff, I cannot leave this work. I cannot go back to another job -- our work is with our communities, and tree-planting is a way we can make a difference." Here was a father of eight children, unsure of where his next meal was coming from, and volunteering his time for the same reasons I was.

The Pemba Trees project is what I do. The purpose and the meaning that comes from my efforts, and the people that work alongside me help sustain my vision. Together, we have been able to support the thousands of Pemban that now plant trees for timber, fruit and the countless ecosystem services they provide.

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